Arar gratefully accepts apology, still on U.S. list
Published Friday, January 26, 2007 11:07PM EST
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 5:35PM EDT
Maher Arar says Ottawa's formal apology and offer of $11.5 million in compensation "means the world." But he remains on a U.S. watch list because of his travel history and personal associations, according to a top official.
"I cannot begin to tell you how important it is today that Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and his government have followed through on the work of Justice [Dennis] O'Connor's recommendations by apologizing to me and my family and awarding compensation," Arar told a news conference Friday.
"In doing so, the government and the prime minister have acknowledged my innocence."
Thanking his wife Monia and his family for their support over the four years since he was suddenly deported to Syria by U.S. authorities, Arar also offered his gratitude to those Canadians who believed in him.
"Without the support of the Canadian people, I might never have come home and I would not have been able to stay strong and push for truth," he said.
Arar told reporters that the compensation money will never allow him to buy his life back. He said he still suffers from nightmares and emotional distress. As well, he said, the label of "former terror suspect" and its inherent stigma still hang over him, and he he has never been able to find work since.
"There is no amount of money that will compensate me for what I have gone through," Arar told reporters.
Harper announced earlier in the day that Arar would be receiving $10.5 million, along with money to cover his legal fees. Arar's lawyer Julian Falconer later told reporters the total amount came to $11.5 million.
Though Arar had been seeking $37 million in his suit against the federal government -- down from an original $400 million -- Harper said both sides settled on the $10.5 million figure because that was seen as "a realistic assessment of what Mr. Arar would have won in a lawsuit."
"On behalf of the government of Canada," Harper read from the letter sent to Arar, "I wish to apologize to you, Monia Mazigh, and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003.
"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your effort to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives."
In 2002, the U.S. suspected the Syrian-born Arar of being an extremist Islamic terrorist and deported him to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured into making false confessions that he was involved with al Qaeda.
The software engineer, now living in B.C., was cleared by a judicial inquiry last fall. Justice O'Connor found no evidence linking Arar to terrorism and concluded that he had been deported based on misleading information provided to the U.S. from the RCMP.
O'Connor said the RCMP antiterrorism personnel should not have sent U.S. officials raw intelligence data that had not been analyzed for accuracy. Further, he said, they should have taken precautions to make sure the data was not used in U.S. deportation proceedings.
The affair later led to the resignation of former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, who stepped down after contradicting himself on what and when he knew about Arar's deportation.
Troubles in U.S. still not solved
Despite being cleared of any terrorist links, Arar remains on the American watch list because of unspecified information they have on him -- preventing him from entering the United States or even flying over its airspace.
A senior official with the U.S. State Department told The Canadian Press that Arar's personal associations and travel history are why he remains on the list.
But the official, who wished to remain anonymous, stressed that those points would not be enough to deport him to Syria or even place him on the Canadian security list.
Lorne Waldman, a lawyer for Arar, said his client should be cleared by the U.S. because of his exoneration in Canada, followed by a lengthy investigation.
"It sounds to me like a pretty pathetic justification."
Harper said efforts continue to convince U.S. counterparts to remove Arar from their watch list.
"This government reserves the right to disagree with the Americans when we have something substantial to disagree about," Harper told reporters.
"We were clear, we don't believe Mr. Arar should be on watch list. We articulated that at all levels of the government up to and including the president. And we'll continue to do so."
"We will not drop this matter, just because there is a disagreement and they don't like our position."
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins blasted Ottawa's efforts to have Arar removed from the list, saying Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is "presumptuous" if he thinks he has a say in the matter. Wilkins said Day should back down, because an American assessment concluded Arar should remain on the watch list.
Day said last week he's seen all the U.S. information and found nothing new to suggest Arar is a risk.
Arar has launched a separate lawsuit against U.S. officials.